‘The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.’ –Pablo Picasso

‘It takes a big heart to help shape little minds.’–Unknown

Ginny Schwalbach has been the heart and soul of the Early Childhood programs at the Park District of Highland Park for 39 years. It’s been an extraordinary career. One that had a modest start. One that has produced monumental changes along the way. Ginny is retiring this June, and we already know things will never be quite the same in the classrooms and the halls at West Ridge Center. As you can imagine, the stories from a career that spans generations could fill a book. We hope she writes one! For now, we’ll do our best to tell you a bit about how the wonderful Miss Ginny has enriched the lives of thousands of Highland Park families and kids, and touched all of us who have worked with her.

A briefcase and a suit just didn’t suit her.

In 1985, Ginny was a successful businesswoman, with a degree in Finance (and a minor in Child Psychology that would shortly become invaluable), who had worked for the past year as the branch manager of a bank in the suburbs. “I didn’t like one second of it,” she said, matter of factly. And now, she and her husband had a 1-year-old son who she wanted to spend time with more than almost anything. “I opened the Highland Park Review one day and saw an ad in big, bold letters: ‘Bring Your Child, Come to Work With Us’.” That might be the best ad the Park District has ever run. She “answered the ad” (what a lovely, quaint phrase), and was hired as a babysitter. “My son came to work with me every day, we had friends, we played. I got paid to do that. It was perfect!” When her daughter was born, she also came to work with Ginny every day. “I stayed with the program, and she was able to grow at the Park District.”

When her son was 4 or 5, Ginny said to her boss, “My son loves the sports and athletics programs here, but he would really love science and dinosaurs and volcanoes and explosions, too.” Don Kappal said simply: “Do a write-up for the brochure.” She remembers, “I wasn’t really thinking it would be me who would teach the class!” Happily, for her and for us, the proposal was accepted. “The concept of something academic just took off immediately,” she said, and it’s been going strong ever since. Many of you got to know her when you were a kid in that class. Curiosity Club was the first one she developed. Somewhere along the way she became Miss Ginny. And we became a better Park District.

Everything Grows and Grows

One class expanded to other classes, with more wonderful teachers. “It all came together. My kids could be with me, I was working in the town I grew up in, and I loved what I was doing.”

Miss Ginny taught 2-year, 3-year, and 4-year-old classes – all individual classes – but the bulk of what she did was Kindergarten. Back then, the Highland Park schools only offered half-day Kindergarten, so kids came to the park district’s enrichment programs in the morning, went to Kindergarten in the afternoon, and vice versa. The most popular class was Curiosity Club, where

every week had a different Science theme. Then she developed Number Nonsense, another academically based class, but with a Math theme. “The kids earned Crazy Cash during class, and could then go ‘shopping’ in the little toy store we had.” These days, her students don’t know as much about cash and cash registers. They do know about Gift Cards! “It’s their thing, now.”

In 2016, Highland Park schools finally offered full-day Kindergarten, which was a game-changer for the park district. Half-day Kindergarten was no longer the answer for parents, and Ginny knew she had to reinvent the program. “We had great teachers who were well established in their 2, 3, and 4-year-old classes. I certainly didn’t want to change that structure or infringe on what they all were doing so well.” There was, however, an important area the district was not fully addressing. Ginny moved into after-school programming and created another sensational class: Invention Convention. Amanda Geoffrion, the district’s Recreation Supervisor-Early Childhood Enrichment, wrote recently, “Creating, developing, and nurturing new programs to meet the needs of our community and serve our youngest population is work that has fueled Ginny and continues to energize her to this day.” That’s certainly true. It’s a very special person who shows up to work every day for 39 years with the same vigor and ambition as when they started.

Things Change. Things Stay the Same.

We asked Miss Ginny about the changes in education that she’s seen and been part of for almost 4 decades. Technology? “The age groups we teach are not really involved with technology as much as you might think. They are not on screens, and parents are happy about that.” What still works? “Getting down on the floor and interacting with students, and reading books face-to-face is still the best. It makes a huge difference.” Favorite teaching tools? “Building blocks! Kids still love them. And we brought out Legos for the first time during President’s Week. Boys and girls sat together at tables and worked on creating their own flags.” You could tell how excited they were just by listening to her tell the story. We love that about Miss Ginny. Everyone does. Of course as teachers, Ginny and her colleagues use technology to prepare lessons. It’s one of the positive changes tech has made in the profession And now, in addition to sending home a paper each day with an explanation of what the students did in class, every afternoon the teachers send parents a set of pictures of what happened during the day. “It’s wonderful. Kids and parents look forward to it, and we use that as a springboard for conversations at home, because that’s where so much education takes place.”

The fall of 2019 brought another significant change to the education program at the park district, when the district’s Recreation Department opened ParkSchool. It was designed to be a preschool program and all of the teachers focused on their age groups. There were classes for ages 2, 2 turning 3, and 3 turning 4. Miss Ginny took on the 4 turning 5 group. Kids who would be entering Kindergarten the next fall. At ParkSchool, the curriculum is designed so that all ages do the same theme every week, with different class projects that are appropriate for each age group. The teachers all work together instead of doing separate weekly themes. The concept was, and has been, a tremendous success.

And Then — January 2020.

Individual classes had been going well. ParkSchool was running smoothly. While the kids are very young, the teachers have been there for a long time and are all seasoned pros. Which made a world of difference in 2020 and 2021 during the height of the pandemic. When everything changed outside, ParkSchool kept going. Parents appreciated it. Kids benefitted greatly by being with their friends and the teachers they trusted. Ginny explained, “Teachers understand that when children are with us during the school day, we are the most important person in their world because we’re taking care of these human beings. We know that we’re part of the family conversation at the dinner table. We’re mindful of that every day. It informs how we talk to the students and how we interact with them.” Julie Nichols, the district’s Recreation Program Manager, has an interesting, inciteful take on the importance of teachers: “The preschool parents we have today have never parented when they were not in a crisis. They’ve lived from one crisis to the next.” It’s true. They don’t know what it’s like to be a parent when the world was beautiful, and a simpler place. Ginny added, “It makes me a little sad, but also makes me more aware of just how important it is that parents trust us.” We know they do.

Learning to create that trust goes back to a much earlier program that Ginny created called Me and My Pals, for 2-year-olds coming to a class without their parent. It was a big transition for the children—and their parents. “It was like baptism by fire. I learned about separation anxiety, and how much I wasn’t just an instructor for the children, but for the family as well.” For many parents, this was the first time they were dropping their children off. Once she had the trust of the parents the kids followed suit, “because the kids would think mom & dad are bringing me here, so they must feel good about it.” Remember that minor in Child Psychology? So much more important than a briefcase. During that time, kids could only come for one class a week, and there were years when Ginny had as many as 180 families enrolled. She taught up to 12 classes each week, and while it was a lot of work, “I just loved it!” Decades later, thousands of kids and families remember how much they loved it, too.

Talking about this final academic school year, Ginny says “I’m excited to come to work every day. While I’m driving in I’m thinking ‘I can’t wait to do this project, and to try this with the kids.” She’s a bit surprised by that, but if you’re one of the lucky ones who has found their true calling, you know how it feels. “I get to come to work at a park every day. There are deer walking around!” You can hear the smile in her voice. Then she added, “The foundation of this building is the people who work here. I love these people, and I’m proud to say I’m part of this organization.”

Miss Ginny, you’re the cornerstone of this building. This organization. Our education programs. We stand on your shoulders, and we know we’re better because of you. Amanda wrote a lovely toast; “All of us here at the park district, and everyone in the Highland Park community wishes Ginny a well-deserved retirement filled with joy, more time with her growing grandchildren and family, and new adventures!”

All together now: When I say Mighty you say: Oaks! Mighty: Oaks!, Mighty: Oaks! A big strong tree, Mighty like ME!

Spring is the time of year you may notice dandelions popping up in our parks.  You might wonder why the Park District doesn’t do something about all those yellow flowers.  Letting them bloom is one way we keep our parks at their healthiest. Though not a complete source of nutrition for bee pollinators, dandelions also fill in early spring food source gaps.

As part of our best management practices, we aim to avoid spraying lawn chemicals to eliminate what some might deem an unsightly nuisance.   Instead, the yellow blooms can open to their glory across our parks.  Once the grass is long enough, crews will mow the dandelions giving our parks a more uniform “green grass” appearance.  

The Park District of Highland Park was one of the first Park Districts in Illinois to adopt an Environmental Policy which includes maintaining our parks, facilities and natural areas in a manner that enhances and protects the environment by minimizing the adverse impact on air and water quality. This includes “Integrated Pest Management” practices that minimize chemical use in favor of other management efforts such as careful mowing, aeration and–in the case of dandelions–working with nature to provide healthy places to play.

Park District of Highland Park Executive Coordinator Roxanne Hejnowski was recognized with a Character Counts Pillar Award at the 2024 City of Highland Park Awards ceremony held on Thursday, April 11.

Presented annually by the City of Highland Park, North Shore School District 112, Highland Park High School, and the Park District of Highland Park, the awards honor those who have made positive, sustained, and impactful contributions to the community. The Park District of Highland Park is a member of the Highland Park Character Counts Steering Committee, which honors nominees whose beliefs, attitudes, and actions consistently exemplify the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.  

Roxanne was nominated by a colleague for exemplifying the pillar of respect. An exceptional individual who consistently demonstrates respect in all her interactions, she has a unique ability to recognize the strengths in others and make them feel valued and heard. In her role as the lead for the Park District of Highland Park Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, she has shown inclusive leadership, leading the team in organizing significant community donation drives and coordinating various activities to promote mental health and enhance workplace culture. Roxanne is praised for her diplomacy in navigating difficult conversations and her unwavering commitment to treating everyone with dignity. Her consistent pattern of respectful behavior makes her a role model for others and deserving of recognition.

Congratulations Roxanne. You exemplify the Park District’s values of being welcoming, caring, and extraordinary!

Notice of Public Hearing Concerning the Intent of the Board of Park Commissioners of the Park District of Highland Park, Lake County, Illinois to Sell $7,000,000 General Obligation Limited Tax Park Bonds 

Public Notice is Herby Given that the Park District of Highland Park, Lake County, Illinois (the “District”), will hold a public hearing on the 24th day of April 2024, at 6:00 p.m. The hearing will be held at the West Ridge Center, 636 Ridge Road, Highland Park, Illinois. The purpose of the hearing will be to receive public comments on the proposal to sell bonds of the District in the amount of $7,000,000 for the payment of lad condemned or purchased for parks, for the building, maintaining, improving and protecting of the same and the existing land and facilities of the District and for the payment of the expenses incident thereto. 

By order of the President of the Board of Park Commissioners of the Park District of Highland Park, Lake County, Illinois. Dated the 10th day of April, 2024. 

Updates from the March Park Board Meetings

March 12: Finance Committee Meeting

Staff are working with the Highland Lakes Property Owners Association to extend the transfer agreement for the Rory David Deutsch property.

Staff received two proposals for the Lot 3 Paddle Facility. A civil engineering design services proposal from Gewalt Hamilton Associates for exterior utility improvements and a proposal for architectural services from Woodhouse Tinucci Architects for interior construction. Staff also reviewed the project timeline and the estimated project costs, including sponsorship opportunities and fundraising opportunities.  

PMA Securities, LLC Senior Vice President, Managing Director, Robert Lewis provided an overview of the Park District’s Debt and Funding scenarios, this included available financing mechanisms: Alternate Revenue Bonds, Debt Certificates, or Bonds paid from a separate property tax (referendum and non-referendum bonds).

Insurance and maintenance/landscaping items in the Recreation Fund exceeded the appropriation budget and the appropriation filed with Lake County. It was the advice of legal counsel and the auditors to file a budget transfer ordinance to amend the appropriation ordinance for the fiscal year beginning January 1, 2023, and ending on December 31, 2023.

Staff reviewed the Recreation Trail Grant application for the red and green trails and the Heller Nature Center.

March 13: Workshop Meeting of the Park Board

Staff are proposing renaming the Recreation Center of Highland Park, Park Fitness. Staff reviewed the creative briefings to develop the proposed name and how the rename will better promote the brand and all the amenities and programs the facility offers.

Staff provided a five-year financial analysis of dance and theater programs.

Staff provided a five-year financial analysis of youth enrichment programs.

Staff shared images of Sunset Valley Club House renovations. Renovations include expanding the bar, installing an outdoor walk-in-fridge, installing new flooring, installing new lighting, and new dining room décor.

Staff are updating the current five-year Pro-Forma for the dome (Lot 3 Paddle Facility).

March 13: Workshop Meeting of the Park Board

The Park Board of Commissioners approved the Design Services Agreement from Woodhouse Tinucci Architects for the Lot 3 Paddle Facility authoring the Executive Director to enter into a Professional Services Agreement and the Design Services Agreement from Gewalt Hamilton Associates for the Lot 3 Paddle Facility authoring the Executive Director to enter into a Professional Services Agreement. 

Staff provided a construction project update for Park Avenue Boating Facility North Beach Improvements, Park Avenue Boating Facility South Parking Lot Restoration, Sunset Woods Park Improvements, Old Elm and Port Clinton Playground Replacement, and Larry Fink memorial Park Baseball Field Improvements.

March 20: Regular Meeting of the Park Board

The Park Board of Commissioners approved the updated Mission, Vision, and Value Statements in the Policy Manual, Ordinance #2024-03 An Ordinance Amending the Appropriation Ordinance for Fiscal Year 2023, Ordinance 2024-04 Authorizing and Providing for the Conveyance or Sale of Surplus Personal Property, the Recreational Trail Program Grant Application, the Renewal of the 2023 Routine Grounds Maintenance – North Route Bid, the Renewal of the 2023 Routine Grounds Maintenance – South Route Bid, the Renewal of the 2023 Weeding & Landscape Services Bid, the First Student Transportation Services Agreement Extension for Summer Camp, and the Purchase of an Air Supported Dome at 2205 Skokie Valley Road.

Staff provided an annual report for the Recreation Center of Highland Park comparing budgeted vs actual programming revenues, expenses, and membership utilization.

You may see a new face leading your next program at Heller Nature Center!

We’re excited to welcome a new Naturalist Teacher, Kerrick Goodman-Lucker, to our team. Kerrick has a passion for teaching about the outdoors and is excited to work with the local community. Get to know Kerrick with a quick Q&A––and be sure to say hello if you see him on the trails or teaching a program at Heller and Rosewood Beach!

Where are you from?

I was born in Florida, moved to California to get a graduate degree in Museum Education, lived there for 13 years, and then moved to Illinois in 2019. Yes, I am liking the snow quite well, thank you.

What brought you to the Park District of Highland Park?

I was a classroom teacher until 2021, when I switched to curriculum development. I came to miss being outside in nature, talking to humans not on a screen, and leaving my house ever. Heller Nature Center is a beautiful, peaceful outdoor setting, and my work encourages me to get out and walk and talk to more nature lovers. What’s not to love?

What is something few people know about you?

Three truths and no lies: I used to ride horses when I was a kid (English pleasure and beginning hunter-jumper). I spent a year interning on a farm where I learned to build stuff out of mud and straw and took care of goats and chickens. I love almost all animals, but I am deeply afraid of leeches. Bonus: I used to teach tai chi and pentjak silat.

What is your dream trip?

I have visited Ireland and Scotland, and also New Zealand and Australia. I would love to go back to any of those beautiful places. One day I want to visit the cloud forests of Costa Rica.

What’s your favorite season?

My favorite season is fall. When I was a kid in Florida, I used to think snow was imaginary. I sort of had the sense that somewhere fall happened and it must be really pretty, so I would collect dead leaves and acorns from under the live oaks in our 85 degree September days and make little “fall” displays. 

What is your favorite thing about Heller so far?

I wish more people knew about some of our really quirky, creative programs at HNC! Spread the word! We’re not all teams courses and sedate nature walks over here!

Kerrick Goodman-Lucker, Naturalist Teacher
Learning the Ropes: Kerrick leading his first of many crate climbing programs.

THE CICADAS ARE COMING! Join Mark on this edition of Wild Insights where he shares what’s in store for this rare “double brood emergence!”

What’s all this buzz about cicadas?

Here’s what to know about this once-in-a-lifetime event!

Why is 2024 a special year for cicadas?

For the first time since 1803, two broods belonging to two different species of periodical cicadas will emerge at the same time—an occurrence that happens only once every 221 years! One brood has been underground for 13 years, and the other for 17 years. What’s more, this year’s cicada groups, known as Brood XIII and Brood XIX, happened to make their homes adjacent to one another, with a narrow overlap in central Illinois.

When will we see them?

Cicadas typically emerge once the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit. We would expect the larger majority to emerge from mid-May to early June, but this year, we may see them earlier due to the early warm temperatures.

Where will they be?

The insects are expected to merge all over the Midwest. However, here in Illinois, we may be primed to see more than our neighbors. Brood XIX (the 17-year brood) has a wide range across the Midwest and into Louisiana, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. Brood XIII’s (the 13-year brood) population is mostly centered around Illinois but stretches into Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa.

What should we expect?

Noise, and lots of it! Cicadas are emerging primarily to mate, and their calls are loud. Their calls can reach 100 decibels, comparable to a motorcycle or a jackhammer! You will also probably see large gatherings of the young nymphs, and their old shells around the base and on the trunks of trees.

Should I be worried?

Not at all! While they may be big and loud, cicadas are harmless to humans and pets. And while they may do some damage to trees and large plants as they lay their eggs, they are not harmful to household gardens and crops like locusts are. This year, cicadas will be a valuable food source for birds and other predators.

Every so often the sun, moon, and Earth align just right to put on a spectacular show! On Monday, April 8, a total solar eclipse will take place, meaning that the moon will pass in front of the sun, creating a shadow over the sun. Chicago and its surrounding suburbs will experience an estimated 94% totality—higher than the 2017 eclipse and higher than any future eclipses in Chicagoland.

What time is the big show?

At 12:50pm, the moon will start to pass in front of the sun, moving slowly at first and then picking up speed. The peak time to see it in Chicagoland will be around 2:07pm. By 3:22pm, it will move out of the area and the whole show will be over!

Do you have your solar eclipse glasses?

Because we live outside the path of totality (the stretch of land in which the moon will completely cover the sun, resulting in a total eclipse), it is extremely important to wear eclipse glasses while viewing the solar eclipse to avoid eye damage. Regular sunglasses are NOT safe for viewing.

Don’t have eclipse glasses? There’s another way to safely view the solar eclipse! Check out this how-to from NASA on making your own box pinhole projector: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/14391/

You don’t want to miss this! The next total solar eclipse in the United States is set to take place on August 12, 2045. The next total solar eclipse with Chicago in a path of totality isn’t until August 4, 2111!

On Tuesday, March 12, the Park District of Highland Park celebrated the Jeff Fox Field Groundbreaking at Larry Fink Memorial Park.

The new state-of-the art field will more than triple the number of usable hours of the field each year and reduce the cost of maintenance by more than 50% every year over its projected 10-year lifespan. Hundreds of hours of play are lost each year due to flooding of the current field.

This project is part of a larger Park District Athletic Fields Master Plan, which includes long-term plans to renovate the athletic fields at Larry Fink Park, Danny Cunniff Park and Sunset Woods Park. The Park Board approved naming the new ballpark Jeff Fox Field, after longtime Highland Park resident Jeff Fox. It’s a wonderful story of how much the park, especially baseball, meant to Jeff and his family. You can read it here.

The $1.02 million project is fund with $500,000 from the Park District’s Capital Fund and the remainder from community donations through the Giants Athletic Boosters, an affiliate of the Parks Foundation of Highland Park. The new field is anticipated to be completed in Summer 2024. Learn more about the project here.

The Athletic Boosters at the Jeff Fox Field Groundbreaking on March 12.

Updates from the February Park Board Meetings

February 14: Facility and Recreation Committee Meeting

Architects, Holabird and Root Staff reviewed the schematic designs for the New Community Center at West Ridge Park. The schematic design includes two key elements the development of the site master plan and how the new building correlates to the site.

Staff are working with architects and engineers to develop design and engineering service agreements for the Lot 3 Paddle Facility. Architects Woodhouse Tinucci would develop and engineer the interior structure and Gewalt Hamilton will develop and engineer the site and utility infrastructures.

February 14: Workshop Meeting of the Park Board

At least every 5 years the Park Board of Commissioners formally reviews the District’s ADA Transition Plan and at least every 10 years the Park Board will formally approve a new ADA Transition Plan. The Park District’s most recently reviewed this plan with the Park Board in 2019 and an ADA audit was last completed in 2010 by Recreation Accessibility Consultants. Staff provided a project overview and reviewed the proposal from WT Group for the 2024 ADA Accessibility Audit and Transition Plan.

Staff provided a construction project update for the Sunset Woods Park Improvements.

Staff reviewed proposed revisions and new additions to the FT and PT Employee Personnel Policy Manual, new additions include a wellness policy and incorporating the adopted Park District Values.

February 15: Finance Committee Meeting

Staff reviewed the 2023 preliminary Cost Center financial results.  

Staff reviewed the 2023 fourth quarter financials for the Recreation Center of Highland Park.

It was the consensus of the Finance Committee to place the bid from US Commercial Diving on the consent agenda at the February 28, 2024 Regular Meeting of the Park Board.

Staff reviewed the Ten-Year Funding Model for the Capital Plan and the scheduled debt issuances.

February 28: Regular Meeting of the Park Board

The Park Board of Commissioners approved Policy 7.14 Social Media Policy to the Policy Manual, Adding the Mission, Vision, Values Statements to the Full-Time/Part-Time Personnel Policy Manuals, Changes to Policy 4.3 Access to Personnel Files to the Full-Time/Part-Time Personnel Policy Manuals, Changes to Policy 8.5 Bereavement Leave Full-Time Personnel Policy Manual, Policy 8.11 Wellness Policy to the Part-Time Personnel Policy Manual, Policy 8.15 Wellness Policy to the Full-Time Personnel Policy Manual, Changes to Policy 10.3 Illinois Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) to the Full-Time/Part-Time Personnel Policy Manuals, Changes to Policy 10.7 Blood Donation Leave to the Full-Time Personnel Policy Manual, the Emergency Evacuation Agreement North Shore School District 112, the 2024 Park Avenue Dredging Project Bid, the 2024 ADA Accessibility Audit and Transition Plan.

Staff secured a dome supplier through Sourcewell, a Cooperative Purchasing Advantage, to replace the dome located at Lot 3.  Staff reviewed the proposal from Air Structures American Technologies, INC (ASATI) along with the dome structure details and the conceptual floor plans.

Staff provided an annual report for Heller Nature Center and the Rosewood Interpretive Center comparing budgeted vs actual programming revenues, expenses, and participant utilization.

The Park Board of Commissioners met in Closed Session under Section 2(c)1: The employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees, specific individuals who serve as independent contractors in a park, recreational, or educational setting, or specific volunteers of the public body or legal counsel for the public body.

The Park Board of Commissioners approved the Executive Director’s Compensation effective January 1, 2024.